Edward I comes down through history to us as a man not much given to romantic gestures. This after all, is the man who implemented being hung, drawn and quartered for treason, who expelled the Jews in 1290, and who spent a considerable part of his life hammering the Welsh and the Scots into submission (wasted effort when it came to the Scots). He also hung women in cages from the battlements of Berwick castle, and supposedly (as per one rather fanciful story) left instructions that his body be boiled until the flesh fell off his bones and for those bones to be carried along with the English army when yet again they went after the Scots. His son, understandably, preferred to bury daddy as he was…
Edward I was undoubtedly one of the more capable English kings. A devoted and loyal son, a man who took his responsibilities seriously and who set about reforming government so as to include Montfort’s ideas about regular parliaments, he is also at times a controversial king – it suffices to read the first paragraph to understand why. But whatever people may think of him, I’d wager no one would accuse Edward I of being a softie. Nope, not for him hearts and flowers. Or?
When Edward was fifteen, he married Eleanor of Castile. She was thirteen at the time, and the wedding was essentially a political alliance to safeguard English interests in Gascony. Fortunately, the married couple took to each other like a house on fire. They would spend the coming thirty-odd years or so mostly together, with Eleanor accompanying Edward more or less wherever he went, despite giving birth to at least sixteen children.
One gets the impression of a happy marriage – of two intellectual equals that took great pleasure in each other’s company. Eleanor was well-educated and no push-over. She was an active business woman, amassing considerable wealth during her life – something that did not exactly endear her to her subjects, who were somewhat intimidated by their determined queen. Edward, however, appreciated her hard-nosed qualities – but there was plenty of love and flirtation as well, as demonstrated by the fact that even after her death, Edward continued to pay her women Lent money, the “bribe” required to get him through the door to his waiting queen after the impossed celibacy of Lent.
And then Eleanor up and died. Okay, not unexpected, because she had been ailing for quite some time, but Edward was devastated. So much did he love his wife, that he ordered a magnificent stone cross to be built at every point in which her coffin rested on its way to London. These Eleanor crosses, in total 12, are mostly gone by now, but some remain standing, a silent reminder of a king and his great love for his wife. Sort of romantic, hey?
Edward I may have been griefstruck. Yes, he was probably for some time not quite himself. But Edward was a king, and his duties required him to pull himself together and get on with things – including sorting the matter of the rather precarious situation when it came to his heirs. No matter all those babies, Eleanor and Edward only had six children survive childhood. Of those, only one was a son – the future Edward II. So, just in case, Edward married again, by all accounts as devoted a husband to his new bride as he had been to his first.Edward I, it seems, was blessed in his marriages, finding love and companionship with both his wives.
Through history, however, there are various examples of royal spouses who never got over the loss of their dear one. For them, the love that had once been a blessing became an affliction, grief dragging them into the dark and never quite letting them back up into the light.
One of the more classic examples is that of Juana of Castile – interestingly enough a distant relation to Edward’s Eleanor. Extraordinarily beautiful, this the second daughter to Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragón, was not only considered drop-dead, she was also highly intelligent and extremely well-educated. Unfortunately for Juana, both her parents belonged to the Trastámara family – Isabel and Fernando were second cousins – and mental instability popped up here and there in her family tree. Not that there were any indications that Juana was so afflicted – the girl was quite the catch on the marital market, despite being nowhere close to inheriting a crown, having both an elder brother and an elder sister.
Anyway, in 1496, Juana married Philip the Handsome. To judge from what portraits there are, he wasn’t that gorgeous, but maybe the paintings don’t do him justice. Whatever the case, Juana and Philip were sufficiently attracted to each other to produce a half a dozen of very attractive children. Juana was smitten with her handsome husband – and quite devastated when he strayed. Which, by all accounts, he did quite often. Despite his behaviour, Juana developed something of an obsession with her husband, an open adoration that had people snickering behind her back.
Through a series of unfortunate deaths, Juana ended up as the heir to both Castile and Aragón. And in 1504, when her mother died, Juana became Queen of Castile – her handsome hubby became King Philip I, something that by all accounts pleased him. Two years later, Philip died in a sudden fever, this as a consequence of over exertion on the tennis court followed by too much cold water. Or typhoid – take your pick.
At the time Juana was pregnant. Her husband’s unexpected death was a blow that literarily felled her, and days of weeping, of not eating or drinking in her despair, drove her over the edge. Juana became Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad) as the people around her watched with mounting concern how she sank deeper and deeper into the black sludge of her grief.
Philip was embalmed and placed in a coffin. Juana wasn’t about to have him buried – not yet. She simply couldn’t bear to be parted from him. Some months after his death, Juana set out with the coffin, destined for Granada. Every day she had the coffin opened so that she could inspect the corpse and ensure no one had touched it. All women were forbidden from being anywhere close to the coffin, Juana’s jealousy spiraling into skrieking bouts of madness if she saw as much as a female servant.
In Torquemada, the journey ground to a temporary halt. Juana’s baby was about to be born, and she ordered Philip’s coffin to be placed in the chapel, surrounded by guards and so many candles the men doing guard duty emerged “as black as moors” due to all the soot.
The baby, a little girl, was born on a cold and icy January day. As if mirroring Juana’s despair, Castile was afflicted by famine and the plague – not that Juana noticed, immured in her own mental prison. Come spring, she set off again, refusing to travel by day. So instead Juana, the coffin, her baby and all their entourage travelled by night, surrounded by torches.
One day, or so the story goes, Juana saw a group of building outlined against the lightening eastern sky. A place to stay, she hoped, but upon being informed it was a nunnery, she collapsed in yet another bout of jealousy. She ordered the coffin opened and stood for a long time staring down at the sorry remains of her once so handsome husband. The lid was replaced, and the procession swung into motion, with no idea of where they were headed. Granada no longer seemed to be the intended destination.
Finally, Juana’s father decided things had to stop. Concerned for her health – and the state of the government, he came upon her in the midst of the Castilian hinterland. Somehow, he convinced her to return to Burgos. Fernando rode with his men during the day, Juana and the coffin travelled by night. At this point, Juana no longer washed or changed her clothes.
In 1509, Fernando had Juana brought to the convent of Tordesillas. She was 28 years old, mother of six, and all she could think of was her husband – once so handsome, now slowly rotting in his as yet uninterred coffin. Fernando had her locked away – together with her youngest daughter. He did do her the kindness of placing Philip’s coffin so that she could see it from her window. The door closed. Juana was to remain within for 47 long years, released only by death.
In the meantime, her father was to die, deeply depressed. Juana became the titular ruler of both Castile and Aragón, but the actual ruling was done by her young and gifted son, who showed little inclination to have his mother released from her prison. Truth be told, maybe she preferred to remain within, sitting always by the window that allowed her to see what little remained of Philip the Handsome: his coffin.
After her death, Juana was reunited with her husband. They were buried in Granada, together. I suspect they were both beyond caring…